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Homily for Lent 4 (B) 2018
“For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.”
There is a lot of pain involved in human love, sometimes. I am not thinking about the physical pain that mothers go through in order to bear their children so much but rather the stresses and strains of parenthood as whole. The love a parent shows a child continues to be flecked with anxiety, worry and ‘what ifs?’ An American comedian once did a wonderful standup sketch of a mother taking a child to school contrasting the very first day – don’t let go of me, mother, I’ll die in there, I’m scared - with the child’s attitude the following day, “Goodbye, mother, take care of yourself, won’t you, dear? I should be home 12.30, quarter to one, somewhere around there, might be later, might have a little milk with the boys? Tell Dad I’ll see him around dinner time”. Poor mother of course is wrung out on the first day, and waiting anxiously on the second, constantly having to learn to adapt swiftly to a demanding and constantly changing offspring who is her very life. It’s right we salute the love of mothers on this day, because, although it is fathomless, it also knows suffering from time to time and works terribly hard.
At this point, those of you who have been going to church for a long time will be waiting for me to do the normal thing on mothering Sunday and work round to the point that we actually have three mothers: our earthly mother, our heavenly mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and our holy mother, the Church. Well, you have not been disappointed, for I have just ticked that glorious box, but our readings today point us to the fount of all love in God himself, and I hope that I am not being fanciful when I say we see a parent’s love, with all its work and pain, in the relationship of God with his people. There’s an Irish saying, isn’t there, that there is a mother’s heart in the heart of God, and our readings today help us to glimpse that. God, in the OT, is constantly distressed by the faithlessness and infidelity of his children, he is driven to punish them, the hardest thing for a parent to do, and yet even as he punishes them he plans to bring them back, to bring them home. But the restoration of the Temple that is enabled by Cyrus is a temporary thing, and children of God wander off again. It is only through the gift of his very self, through the person of his Son that God finally starts to bring his children back home. And how those children have missed their home!
By the rivers of Babylon
There we say and wept,
On the poplars that grew there
We hung up our harps.
For it was there that they asked us,
Our captors, for songs,
Our oppressors, for joy.
‘Sing to us,’ they said,
‘one of Zion’s songs.’
O how could we sing
the song of the Lord
on alien soil?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
Let my right hand wither!
God’s holy Temple, the place where his shekinah, his holy presence, dwells, is the true home of the people of God, and they feel lost and rootless when they are away from it for whatever reason, just as a child feels a bit lost when it is away from its mother. That bond with our mother teaches us everything we first know about the difference between being at home and not being at home, and, if we have been fortunate, our mothers have made being at home something that is as beautiful and natural as breathing, and they have taught us a lot about why we should stick with God and follow his Son on the way to our real home. Not all mothers are good mothers and not all children are good children, but that just shows us how wonderful the good ones are and what a burden they carry as they teach us all to know love and to share it.
It’s not surprising we love our mothers in a special way, and it’s not for nothing, therefore, that we prize the mother’s love that the Church and Mary show us, but it’s in the love of all three that we begin to find the source of all love: the love of God himself. John Macquarrie, an Anglican theologian who was big at Chichester in Fr Richard’s day and who was still our top man when I got there, famously described God as ‘Being that lets be’. Being that lets be. If that’s true, if that’s really how God loves, and it’s a wonderful idea, he must have learned it from his mother!